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Theater Review: 'Doctor Cerberus'

(c) The OC Gazette blog

April 21, 2010

By Jennifer Hood

Graphic by Jennifer Hood
NOW HAUNTING COSTA MESA'S SCR, "Doctor Cerberus" swivels around the rickety and unorthodox Robertson Family and their own private horror film called life.

Life is, in many ways, a horror film. But it's our own horror film. And eventually we all learn how to make it through without getting eaten by the monsters. We even learn to love our monsters. We've all caught Stockholm Syndrome, bowing willingly and even clinging lovingly to overbearing-"Mommie-Dearest" mothers, dark-side-Darth-Vader dads, and Wayne-Arnold-"Wonder-Years" brothers. Sure, they might be half-crazy and semi-vicious, but even Darth Vader sacrificed himself for Luke in the end. We hold out for our own personal monsters – errr families – because well, they might be horrific, but they're our horrific family.

So goes the hilarious and unexpected feel-good story of 13 year-old Franklin Robertson and his eccentric, self-destructing, yet strangely compatible family in South Coast Repertory's world premiere of Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa's play, "Doctor Cerberus". Aguirre-Sacasa is a genius at meshing drama and humor, having written for Marvel comic series including "Spider Man" and "The Fantastic Four," for the HBO series "Big Love," and delving into interesting projects like his current work on creating a musical version of "American Psycho (Note to Aguirre-Sacasa: Can I hope that Christian Bale might revisit the madcap role on the stage in the spirit and glory of his tuneful "Newsies "days?!").

"Doctor Cerberus" swivels around the rickety and unorthodox Robertson Family and their own private horror film called life. The play takes place in 1983 as their own "threadbare version of the American Dream" bumbles through the days in an indifferent paranoia about possible Nuclear Holocaust from Reagan's arch nemesis ("The Focus of Evil" AKA the Soviet Union), hardly realizing that they'll more likely destroy each other first.

Dad is the self-appointed king and god of this rebellious family unit. An everyday tax-man who has an inner yearning to be a legend of the Greek or Roman caliber, he requires his minions to call him "sir" despite his unattended authority and conquered view on life. The mother, a hilariously neurotic pessimist who thrives in her own tormented reality, is "collecting pills for her own private, personal holocaust" she threatens sardonically. All the while, the "two monsters who crawled out of her womb" float through the Robertson Family horror tale in their own naïve ways. Rodney, the older brother, swims through the days in a fanatic veneration for The Washington Redskins while Franklin, the play's unsuspecting antihero, finds his own escape in collecting comic books, torching action figures, and immersing himself in local midnight TV spot, "Nightmare Theater," a nightly replay of old-school horror flicks hosted by hoakie TV personality Doctor Cerberus. Franklin knows everything and anything about the classic horror and sci-fi genre. A husky kid with no friends (although his dad fancies himself Franklin's best friend) and a fancy for his brother's football buddies, he dreams of becoming Doctor Cerberus's sidekick and biographer.

The play is a refreshingly honest, yet hyper-stylized take on growing up and holding fast to dreams that threaten to be eaten by the spellbinding, killer blob monster of the "Just get your 9-5 with wife and kids American Dream." It's a "reach for the stars" and "never give up" message, sans cheese and sap. Rather, the moral is given through the pity-worthy and wittily constructed monsters of Franklin's own family. His own kin of zombies, bitten by societal traditions and resented responsibilities, are eventually saved from their drooling, desensitized stagger through life, revived again by Franklin's unflappable and ever-fearless delve toward his dreams despite a fearful and scary world. In the end they learn that it's not so much making life into a romantic comedy or expecting each day to end in a happily ever after, but about making the most of your own horror film, writing the humor into your seemingly lackluster circumstances, and finding inspiration even in your rejection letters. Happy films are overrated. Only the strong survive horror films; and they've got the real stories to tell.

Take your monster-mash family (yes that's a command) to enjoy the hilariously horrendous "Doctor Cerberus "at South Coast Repertory through May 2, 2010. Nab your tix at, by phone at (714) 708-5555 or by visiting the box office at 655 Town Center Drive in Costa Mesa. Go tonight and you'll get the opportunity to pick the brains of the play's cast during the free post-show discussions led by SCR's literary team.

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